The floodwaters that plagued Colorado in mid-September have been receding, but they left plenty of damage in their wake. Mud, muck and mire were but a few of the remnants left behind by days of torrential rainfall.
The flooding destroyed homes, business and roads, led to evacuations throughout the affected areas in Colorado and altered life for many living in the path of the rising and rushing waters.
Weldon Valley Presbyterian Church was not immune to the flooding, suffering extensive damage as waters more than 7 feet deep filled portions of the building constructed in the early 1900s. But church members, residents of the Morgan County community and common strangers have come together to work in tandem to restore the facility to use as a house of worship and center of community refuge.
“We have seen God at work in all this,” said Mark Kenning, commissioned ruling elder (CRE) of Weldon Valley, a Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation formed in 1899 in the northeast Colorado town of Goodrich. “There was never a question in anyone’s mind. This is our church, and we rolled up our sleeves to get it back where it needs to be.”
There still is a lot of work ahead for the 70-member congregation before it can resume full use of its facilities, but the dedication of members and support of neighbors from near and far have been obvious from the time the rains started falling last month.
Plagued by floodwaters
Kenning noted that the most severe flooding damage occurred in Boulder and Larimer counties to the west, but Morgan County – 60 miles downstream on the plains to the east – was more affected by the swelling of the South Platte River, into which all the mountain tributary streams flow. The South Platte normally flows about a quarter of a mile south of the church. After this particular storm, the river spilled well beyond its banks and for a period of time surrounded the church to a depth of 2 feet.
Kenning said the basement had flooded in the past, primarily due to seepage of water, maybe 2 to 3 deep at most. Anticipating the possibility of flooding from the heavy rainfall and more that was predicted, church members started moving things out of the basement and placing them up high in the fellowship hall on Sept. 13. A day later, the structure was infiltrated by floodwaters.
“On Saturday, the river just exploded,” Kenning recalled. “There was 2 feet of water in the fellowship hall and the basement was filled within 4 inches of the ceiling (about 8 feet from the floor). It pretty much inundated the basement. It was gross and ugly.”
Kenning said the water was filled with oil spills as well as sewage wastewater that were part of flooding farther upstream. The water made its way into the furnace and duct work located in the basement, which also housed Sunday school classes, Kenning’s office and was used to store records.
But thanks to some advance planning, many of the items in the basement were salvaged by moving them into the fellowship hall and placing them high off the floor.
There still was major damage to the fellowship hall, which just went through a $50,000 renovation in 2011.
It took two weeks for the water levels to fall, leaving the nastiness of the mire and muck from flooding to cover the floors and walls of the basement.
Kenning said attempts to pump out water, mud and sludge were made, with dryers and fans running for a week to help dry out the rooms. A remediation company – Service Master – was used to check and treat the facility for mold and continue with the cleanup process alongside church members, who gutted the entire basement to start rebuilding efforts.
Plenty of support
Within a few days, Wellshire Presbyterian Church in Denver sent a team to Goodrich to assist with the cleanup efforts, cleaning and removing walls, insulation and other wet building material from the fellowship hall.
About the same time, First Presbyterian Church in Billings, Mont., contacted the Plains and Peaks Presbytery with an offer of $5,000 from its church in distress program for Weldon Valley. Other donations from churches, businesses and individuals have been received to assist with the cleanup efforts.
“It was so wonderful to have them come alongside us and provide such help,” Kenning said of Wellshire, FPC-Billings and others who gave aid in any form. Wellshire’s team is even planning to return and assist with rebuilding the basement and another renovation of the fellowship hall Oct. 12. “We have had people just contact us from out of the blue about helping.”
He noted that the Goodrich community of about 1,500 people was so giving to the church, comprised primarily of ranchers and dairy farmers. Many community members had little to give, but offered what they could financially and added more support with their physical labors to help strip carpet, flooring, paneling, insulation and walls to ready the fellowship hall for renovation.
“It’s really a supportive community,” Kenning said.
Kenning said there did not appear to be any structural damage to the facility, and the sanctuary appeared to be unaffected by the flooding.
However, the furnace that heats the sanctuary and a lot of the duct work was filled with water and will have to be replaced before worship can resume in that part of the church.
Despite the flooding issues, the Weldon Valley congregation has not had to forgo worship services. St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Weldona, located about six miles away, gave Kenning’s members the OK to use its facility for worship through the end of October.
“They have been so gracious to let us use their facility,” Kenning said of his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
Kenning said the hope is to have worship services in the fellowship hall by Nov. 3 and return to the sanctuary for services just as soon as the new furnace is installed and operational as the winter months approach.
He added that there was never a doubt among church members about their future plans once their facility was flooded.
“It was just a matter of what are we going to do next,” he said. “There was never a hint that we might want to say this just isn’t worth doing.”
Kenning noted that many hands make the work light, and people have pitched in to help in a variety of ways, from those making financial contributions to those providing manual labor. Even those physically unable to assist have provided aid, in the form of feeding workers, offering a word of encouragement or simply praying for their efforts.
“We have been smothered with prayer, and that is so reassuring,” Kenning said. “That has helped me keep from being overwhelmed by all that has happened. This (cleanup and renovation process) has happened so much smoother and faster than I ever thought it could. I have no doubt we will overcome this adversity.”
I’ve attended a Presbytery meeting at Weldona and enjoyed a wonderful meal in the church’s basement. So sad about all the damage the floodwaters did, not only there but in many other places. Highlands Camp at Allenspark suffered water damage, even while serving as a Red Cross evacuation center housing as many as a 100 people displaced by the rain and flooding. Our son, his wife, and our two grandchildren were evacuated by Chinook Helicopter from their mountain home near Drake. They may be out of their home for a year, until the roads and bridges are rebuilt. So many good people of all theological persuasions have been God’s agents in this and many other disasters.
I lived 7 miles north of Orchard, or 10 miles from Goodrich, but I was “raised” in this church and loved attending from age 6 through 18 when I went to college. It is has a special place in my heart. I owe much of my outlook on life, my moral upbringing, and love of God to the Weldon Valley Presbyterian Church. It is a place of nurture, love, and the Holy Spirit, as it has been since 1898.